Two (almost) dead horses at once: the humanities establishment and Obama’s mis- and un-educated view of his responsibilities from The New Criterion,, which can get cranky but isn’t wrong: Instapundit links Mark Bauerlain’s “Humanities”. Flog away he does, but that’s because dead or not establishment academics still educate the next generation and even now some see Obama as a defender of art and light.
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Archive for the 'Arts & Letters' Category
Two (almost) dead horses at once: the humanities establishment and Obama’s mis- and un-educated view of his responsibilities from The New Criterion,, which can get cranky but isn’t wrong: Instapundit links Mark Bauerlain’s “Humanities”. Flog away he does, but that’s because dead or not establishment academics still educate the next generation and even now some see Obama as a defender of art and light.
In his memoirs, Russian rocket developer Boris Chertok (previously excerpted in my post here) tells of his experiences while he was in Germany with Soviet occupation troops, right after the war. One of his friends was an officer, Oleg, who was also a talented poet. Irrespective of his military talents, Oleg’s prospects for promotion were not viewed as favorable, because his poetry was “very unsettling to the political department.”
And why was Oleg’s poetry looked upon with disfavor? It was not because the Red Army had any dislike of poets. Nor was it even because his poetry contained criticisms of the regime–there were no such criticisms. No, the objection was because of what the poetry didn’t contain. As another friend of Chertok’s, Mira, explained the situation:
The political workers consider his poems to be demoralizing and decadent. Not once does he mention the Party or Stalin in them.
Of course, something like that could never happen in the US…we are not a society where someone could have their career opportunities gravely limited because of their failure to engage in expected political cheerleading. Right?
I was reminded of the above Chertok comments by Stuart Schneiderman’s post here. Apparently, the book/movie “Gone Girl” (which I’ve neither seen nor read), has a female protagonist who is a rather nasty piece of work, attempting to get revenge against men in her life by making two false charges of rape and one false charge of murder. The film has been denounced by certain critics for portraying such a woman. For example, Rebecca Traister of the New Republic told Financial Times that the movie’s depiction of “our little sexual monsters” traded “on very, very old ideas about the power that women have to sexually, emotionally manipulate men. When you boil women down to only that, it’s troubling.” Apparently, in Ms Traiser’s view, there must not be even one character is one book or movie who departs from the image of womanhood that Traister and her like-thinkers believe should be standardized.
Remarkably enough, Maureen Dowd (yes, Maureen Dowd!) comes out in this case against the witch-hunters and in favor of artistic integrity:
Given my choice between allowing portrayals of women who are sexually manipulative, erotically aggressive, fearless in a deranged kind of way, completely true to their own temperament, desperately vital, or the alternative — wallowing in feminist propaganda and succumbing to the niceness plague — I’ll take the former.
The idea that every portrait of a woman should be an ideal woman, meant to stand for all of womanhood, is an enemy of art — not to mention wickedly delicious Joan Crawford and Bette Davis movies. Art is meant to explore all the unattractive inner realities as well as to recommend glittering ideals. It is not meant to provide uplift or confirm people’s prior ideological assumptions. Art says “Think,” not “You’re right.”
After the 1917 revolution, the Bolsheviks pushed Socialist Realism, creating the Proletkult to ensure that art served ideology. Must we now have a Gynokult to ensure Feminist Unrealism?
The politicization of American society has gone very far–see for example the comments from playwright David Mamet, cited in my earlier Life in the Fully Politicized Society post–and it is good to see even such a creature of the Left as Maureen Dowd starting to push back a little.
A Time of Gifts, by Patrick Leigh Fermor
In late 1933, Patrick Fermor–then 18 years old–undertook to travel from the Holland to Istanbul, on foot. The story of his journey is told in three books, of which this is the first. This is not just travel writing, it is the record of what was still to a considerable extent the Old Europe–with horsedrawn wagons, woodcutters, barons and castles, Gypsies and Jews in considerable numbers–shortly before it was to largely disappear.
Paddy, as everyone called him, was the child of a British civil servant in India and his wife who remained in Britain. At school, Paddy was an avid student of history, literature, and languages; of math, not so much. He was often in trouble–his housemaster wrote that “he is a dangerous mixture of sophistication and recklessness which makes one anxious about his influence on other boys.” Paddy’s career at the school came to an end after he was caught holding hands with the beautiful 24-year-old daughter of a local grocer. He then knocked around London for a while with a rather Bohemian crowd…his comments on the role of Leftism in this subculture, written many years later, are interesting:
In this breezy, post Stracheyan climate, it was cheerfully and explicitly held that all English life, thought, and art were irredeemably provincial and a crashing bore…The Left Wing opinions that I occasionally heard were uttered in such a way that they seemed a part merely, and a minor part, of a more general emancipation. This was composed of eclectic passwords and symbols–a fluent awareness of modern painting, for instance, of a familiarity with new trends in music; neither more important nor less than acquaintance with nightlife in Paris and Berlin and a smattering of the languages spoken there.
At this stage in his life, Paddy was not very interested in political matters, and his interests when he set out on his walking tour centered on art, architecture, languages/dialects, and folk customs. He didn’t have much money for the trip, and planned on living pretty rough…in the event, his general likeability got him many free stays in homes and taverns, and in some cases introductions from one aristocrat to another. There was still plenty of roughing it, though…in Holland, he found that “humble travelers” were welcome to spend the night in a jail cell, and were even given coffee and bread in the morning…and he spent quite a few nights out-of-doors. (He notes that a night in a castle can be appreciated much more when the previous night has been spent in a hayloft.)
With his considerable knowledge of art, Paddy found Holland to be strangely familiar even though he had never been there before:
Ever since those first hours in Rotterdam a three-dimensional Holland had been springing up all round me and expanding into the distance in conformity with another Holland which was already in existence and in every detail complete. For, if there is a foreign landscape familiar to English eyes by proxy, it is this one…These confrontations and recognition-scenes filled the journey with excitement and delight. The nature of the landscape itself, the colour, the light, the sky, the openness, the expanse and details of the towns and villages are leagued together in the weaving of a miraculously consoling and healing spell.
It did not take him long to cross Holland…”my heels might have been winged”…and soon he was in Germany, where the swastika flag had now been flying for ten months. In the town of Goch was a shop specializing in Nazi paraphernalia. People were gathered around photographs of the Nazi leaders. One woman commented that Hitler was very good-looking; her companion agreed with a sigh, adding that he had wonderful eyes.
For the most part, Paddy was treated in a very friendly way: “There is an old tradition in Germany of benevolence to the wandering young: the very humility of my status acted as an Open Sesame to kindness and hospitality.” In a bookstore he met Hans, a Cologne University graduate with a strong interest in literature, who invited him to stay at his apartment. The landlady joined them for tea, and expressed quite different opinions from those Paddy had heard at the Nazi store in Goch. “Such a mean face!” she observed about Hitler, “and that voice!” Hans and his bookseller friend were also anti-Nazi. Paddy observes that “it was a time when friendships and families were breaking up all over Germany” over the political question.
Hans arranged a ride for Paddy up-river with a barge tow, and he got off at Coblenz to continue on foot. Christmas Eve was spent at an inn in Bingen, where Paddy was the only customer. He was invited to help decorate the Christmas tree and to join them for church that evening. On the day before New Year’s, he stopped at a Heidelberg inn called the Red Ox, “an entrancing haven of oak beams and carving and alcoves and changing floor levels,” where an elderly woman greeted him with a smile and the question “Who rides so late through night and wind?”, which Paddy did not then recognize as the first line of Goethe’s Erlkoening. She and her husband were the owners of the inn, and invited Paddy to stay for a while. Paddy became friendly with Fritz, the son of the owners, and pestered him with questions about student life at Heidelberg, especially the custom of dueling with sabres. “Fritz, who was humane, thoughtful and civilized and a few years older than me, looked down on this antique custom and he answered my question with friendly pity. He knew all too well the dark glamour of the Mensur among foreigners.” (Many years later, Paddy wrote to discover what had become of this family, and discovered that Fritz had been killed in the fighting in Norway, where a battalion of his own regiment at the time had been engaged.)
When walking long distances, Paddy liked to either sing or recite poetry. Germans were very used to people singing as they walked, and such tunes as Shuffle off the Buffalo, Bye Bye Blackbird, and Shenandoah generally resulted in “tolerant smiles” from other wayfarers. Poetry, on the other hand, tended to cause “raised eyebrows and a look of anxious pity”…even, sometimes, “stares of alarm.” One woman who was gathering sticks dropped them and took to her heels, evidently taking Paddy for a dangerous lunatic.
Paddy devotes several pages to the names of poems that he remembers reciting, ranging from the choruses of Henry V and long stretches of A Midsummer Night’s Dream to Marlowe, Spencer, Browning; Kipling and Houseman…in French, Baudelaire, Verlaine, and large quantities of Villon. In Latin, there was Virgil, Catallus, and Horace; also some profane medieval Latin lyrics. And also a bit of Greek, including part of the Odyssey and two poems of Sappho. Amusingly, Paddy prefaces this section of the book with the statement “The range is fairly predictable and all too revealing of the scope, the enthusiams and limitations, examined at the eighteenth milestone, of a particular kind of growing up,” and ends it with the rather apologetic “a give-away collection…a fair picture, in fact, of my intellectual state-of-play…”
At a cafe in Stuttgart, he fell into conversation with two cheerful girls, Annie and Lise, who had come in to buy groceries. They invited him to a “young people’s party” in celebration of the Feast of the Three Kings, and then insisted that he stay overnight. (Annie’s parents were out of town.) The next day was rainy; the girls insisted that he stay longer and go to another party with them, this being one they were not looking forward to but couldn’t get out of: it was being held by an unlikeable business associate of Annie’s father.
The was “a blond, heavy man with bloodshot eyes and a scar across his forehead,” and “except for the panorama of Stuttgart through the plate glass, the house was hideous”…Paddy devotes quite a few words to critiquing its interior decoration. Particularly appalling was a cigarette case made from a seventeenth-century vellum-bound Dante, with the pages glued together and scooped hollow. The trio was very happy to finally escape and return to Annie’s residence. (After Paddy left to continue his journey, he wrote the girls and discovered that the wine bottles they had “recklessly drained” had been a rare and wonderful vintage that Annie’s father had been particularly looking forward to. “Outrage had finally simmered down to the words: “Well, your thirsty friend must know a lot about wine.” (Totally untrue.) “I hope he enjoyed it.” (Yes) It was years before the real enormity of our inroads dawned on me.”)
From the hag and hungry goblin
That into rags would rend ye
And the spirits that stand
By the naked man
In the Book of Moons, defend ye!
That of your five sound sense
You never be forsaken
Nor wander from
Yourself with Tom
Abroad to beg your bacon
The moon’s my constant mistress
And the lonely owl my marrow
The flaming drake
And the night-crow make
Me music to my sorrow
I know more than Apollo
For oft, when he lies sleeping
I see the stars
At mortal wars
And the rounded welkin weeping
With a host of furious fancies
Whereof I am commander
With a burning spear
And a horse of air
To the wilderness I wander
By a knight of ghosts and shadows
I summoned am to tourney
Ten leagues beyond
The wide world’s end
Methinks it is no journey
(Not specifically a Halloween poem, but it certainly sets the mood, doesn’t it? This is Tom O’Bedlam’s Song, dating from sometime around 1600. There are lots more verses, and many different versions.)
So – how to begin the story of how I became a business owner? I suppose that the very beginning came about when I realized that I was sick to death of working for other people, answering to sometimes erratic bosses, metaphorically (and sometimes in reality) punching a time-clock or logging my hours as an admin/office-manager/executive secretary or whatever the temp agency sent me to perform. I had also realized that I was good at writing, wanted to write professionally, and was on the cusp of transforming the amateur word-smithing into a paying job. I was encouraged in this ambition by a number of early blog commenters on the old Sgt. Stryker site who basically said I was very good at the writing and story-telling thing and they wanted more – mostly in the form of a printed book – while some other bloggers with slightly more extensive and professional writing credentials also said I was very, very good and ought to consider going pro myself… and then there was one commenter who didn’t have internet at home, and wanted to read my posts about my admittedly eccentric family – so he inquired after my mailing address, and sent me a box of CD media, so that I could put an extensive selection of early posts about my oddball family on it – one for him, the note said, and the rest for any other readers of the Sgt. Stryker site who wanted a such a collation. I swear unto all, this was about the first time that it ever occurred to me that yes, I had an audience, and one willing to pay money, or at least, for a box of CD media.
Eventually, I did produce a book – a memoir cobbled together from various posts about my family, and growing up – and there it all rested, until another blog-post sparked my second book and first novel. Again, a blog-fan encouraged me to write it, and one thing led to another, resulting in To Truckee’s Trail. About two and a half chapters into the first draft I was let go from a corporate job – a full-time job with which I had become increasingly dissatisfied. On many an afternoon, walking through the duties expected of me, I kept thinking of how I would rather be and home and writing. It was a small shock being fired, actually – but I kept thinking Whoo-hoo! I can go home and work on the third chapter! I was oddly cheerful throughout the actual firing process, totally weirding out the HR staffer in charge of processing my dis-engagement from the company involved. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Lexington Green on 28th October 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
Those of you who know Dostoievski will remember the scene of the ‘Grand Inquisitor,’ where the problem is poignantly unfolded. If one makes any concessions at all to the principle that the end justifies the means, it is not possible to bring an ethic of ultimate ends and an ethic of responsibility under one roof or to decree ethically which end should justify which means.
My colleague, Mr. F. W. Forster, whom personally I highly esteem for his undoubted sincerity, but whom I reject unreservedly as a politician, believes it is possible to get around this difficulty by the simple thesis: ‘from good comes only good; but from evil only evil follows.’ In that case this whole complex of questions would not exist. But it is rather astonishing that such a thesis could come to light two thousand five hundred years after the Upanishads. Not only the whole course of world history, but every frank examination of everyday experience points to the very opposite. The development of religions all over the world is determined by the fact that the opposite is true. The age-old problem of theodicy consists of the very question of how it is that a power which is said to be at once omnipotent and kind could have created such an irrational world of undeserved suffering, unpunished injustice, and hopeless stupidity. Either this power is not omnipotent or not kind, or, entirely different principles of compensation and reward govern our life–principles we may interpret metaphysically, or even principles that forever escape our comprehension This problem–the experience of the irrationality of the world–has been the driving force of all religious evolution. The Indian doctrine of karma, Persian dualism, the doctrine of original sin, predestination and the deus absconditus, all these have grown out of this experience. Also the early Christians knew full well the world is governed by demons and that he who lets himself in for politics, that is, for power and force as means, contracts with diabolical powers and for his action it is not true that good can follow only from good and evil only from evil, but that often the opposite is true. Anyone who fails to see this is, indeed, a political infant.
Is Weber right? Is Aristotle (“man is by nature a political animal”) wrong?
One hour, one blue book.
The highlighted language from Weber I recently read in “The Private Faces of Public Virtue” Michael Knox Beran, in The Claremont Review of Books, Vol. XIV, Number 3, Summer 2014, a review of The Founders at Home: The Building of America, 1735-1817 by Myron Magnet. Magnet’s book sounds good. And for that matter, Beran’s book, Forge of Empires: Three Revolutionary Statesmen and the World They Made, 1861-1871, looks good, too.
Far too many books, far too little time.
It has been many years since I read “Politics as a Vocation” — an acknowledged classic. I need to read that again.
This is a cool event that runs concurrently with the big annual Art Basel art show in Miami Beach in early December. (The MSPF is hosted by a gallery in the Wynwood arts district, which is near downtown Miami rather than Miami Beach and is a fun area to visit during Art Basel.)
The street photography festival is a recent event and has been growing by leaps and bounds, perhaps reflecting the renewed popularity of this type of photography and the fact that there are no other events quite like it. There is a lot of great work on display if you are into this kind of thing — check out the 2012 and 2013 finalists galleries for a sample.
Other street-photography links:
Posted by Margaret on 17th October 2014 (All posts by Margaret)
Last week the West Australian Opera briefly decided to drop a planned performance of Carmen for fear of losing the sponsorship of a state government health promotion agency called Healthway, whose policies prohibit supporting any arts organization that portrays people smoking on stage. Healthway currently subsidizes the opera company to the tune of over $350,000.
Australian politicians have since twisted Healthway’s arm to allow the performance, but it’s not clear whether they’re going to put Carmen back on the schedule.
The episode left me wondering (1) what other operas need to be cleansed of incorrect material, and (2) whether the folks at West Australian Opera have actually listened to the lyrics of any of the operas they perform, and what will be left after they cleanse their repertoire of potentially offensive operas. Given that most opera plots lean heavily on rape, incest, adultery, prostitutes with golden hearts, murder, suicide, and blackmail, the answer would seem to be, “Not much.”
This year’s lineup:
Otello – domestic abuse! Spouse murder! Besides, racism.
The Magic Flute – the child custody case from hell. Besides, anti-feminism.
Il Trovatore – witch hunts, attempted abduction, and throwing the baby into the bonfire… oh well, I suppose that could be written off as post-natal abortion. Pass.
Tosca – torture, blackmail and unassisted suicide. If only Tosca had asked a doctor to throw her off those battlements!
Oh, well. There must be other operas, right? Let’s see:
Don Giovanni – Serial fornication is probably OK, but did the Don obtain affirmative consent every time? Also, the last scene, where he descends into Hell, has to go. That’s forcing religion onto people!
La Fille du Regiment – Bad language alert, illegitimacy; pass.
Madame Butterfly – False marriage, suicide, but the fatal problem is Pinkerton’s failure to pay child support.
The Marriage of Figaro – classic case of workplace sexual harassment.
Pagliacci – The adultery is OK, but, hunchback abuse.
Rosenkavalier – One word: Cougar.
La Traviata – Prostitution is probably OK as long as it’s voluntary, but that song glorifying drinking must be cut.
I’m sure this list is far from complete; feel free to add your own favorites.
Posted by Lexington Green on 8th October 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
The festival of lights in Thailand
Three Irish girls win the Google Science Fair with an approach to bacteria-enhanced crop growth
Two versions of “Oklahoma” at Bookworm, with discussion
10 Disney cartoons from the 1930s, with link to an article on the evolution of Disney’s cartoons over several decades
The lost art of political persuasion. This piece at Ricochet argues that politicians are now less about converting the opposition and persuading the undecided, and more about activating those who are already members of their choir.
Bill Whittle thinks it’s time to talk about some good news (video)
A recent study suggests that empathy can lead to scapegoating
Book giveaways during WWII contributed greatly to the popularization of reading and the subsequent growth of the publishing industry.
This article by a Wharton professor argues that “emotional intelligence is overrated” and, specifically, that it is overrated in sales. He cites a study in which hundreds of sales people were tested both for emotional intelligence and cognitive ability, and their sales performance subsequently tracked…with the conclusion that cognitive ability was more than 5X as powerful as emotional intelligence in predicting sales performance. (Actually, I’m pretty sure that the importance of cognitive ability and the importance of emotional intelligence both vary greatly depending on what you’re selling and who you’re selling it to, and also on what kind of resources the salesman needs to leverage within his own organization.)
Here’s one view of life and of leadership, from the French writer and pilot Antoine de St-Exupery:
”A chief is a man who takes responsibility. He does not say, ‘my men were defeated,’ he says, ‘I was defeated.’”
And here’s a different view from Barack Obama:
Well, I think our head of the intelligence community, Jim Clapper, has acknowledged that I think they underestimated what had been taking place in Syria.
What a pathetic excuse for a leader.
Nor should anyone kid themselves to the effect that Hillary Clinton would take a significantly more responsible approach to the job of President, or that that she took a serious and responsible approach to her job as Secretary of State—see my post excusing failure by pleading incompetence. Neither Ms Clinton nor Mr Obama appears to have much understanding of what it actually means to be responsible for running an organization.
See also my post thoughts on leadership and command, from two writers and a general. Can anyone imagine Obama or Clinton working to develop the kind of “feel” for an organization describes as being achieved by the fictional Willie Keith, or engaging in the sort of agonizing soul-searching described by the real William Slim?
I was going to write about another mildly notorious woman – an imperishably ladylike and competent professional gambler who was a figure of note in her day on the Texas frontier – for History Friday, but I noted the departure of Deborah, known to her family as Debo, the last of the notorious Mitfords, from this mortal plane. Yeah, it was in the Daily Mail website, but they had a number of lovely archive pictures of her, taken throughout her life – which through no particular fault of her own – was spiced with notoriety. Deborah, the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire – which sounds like a made-up title for one of those horrible regency romances – was privileged and burdened, I think – in about the same degree.
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“Culture Mapping” Essay by Jonathan Fletcher Applies Emmanuel Todd’s Analysis, Reaches Conclusions Consistent with America 3.0
Posted by Lexington Green on 22nd September 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
I strongly recommend that you read the excellent essay Culture-mapping: A framework for understanding international B2b decision-making, by Jonathan Fletcher who is the Group Managing Director of Illuminas. Mr. Fletcher’s expertise lies in part in “analysing and interpreting market research data.”
In his paper Mr. Fletcher presents “a framework for understanding decision-making in different business cultures that will enable B2b researchers confronted with a new market to ask the right questions quickly and not waste time and money looking in the wrong places for the wrong things.” Mr. Fletcher finds that culture is “the hidden dimension” which has a “significant influence on economic and industrial behaviour and performance, but a large part of culture is implicit, unconscious and hidden from direct view.”
Twenty-four years after the release of his first feature, “Metropolitan,” and two years after the release of his fourth, “Damsels in Distress,” Whit Stillman—the cinema’s novelist of manners, who reveals deep and enduring patterns beneath the shimmer of apparent frivolities—has written, directed, and produced the twenty-six-minute pilot of a TV-like series, “The Cosmopolitans,” for Amazon (where it premières tomorrow). It has a classical setup—Americans and other foreigners, members of a self-anointed social whirl, tripping through Paris—that, from the start, Stillman makes entirely his own, rendering it both contemporary and anachronistic, of the moment and rooted in time.
Deirdre McCloskey speaking on how the rich got rich, and how everyone else will too, at the Illinois Policy Institute, August 20, 2014
Posted by Lexington Green on 18th August 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
This will be an excellent event. Deirdre McCloskey talking about her most recent book, Bourgeois Dignity: Why Economics Can’t Explain the Modern World.
Her topic: How the rich got rich and how everyone else will too.
This is the message of America 3.0 as well, though we have our own spin.
The Illinois Policy Institute always puts on good events — including a modest charge for a great event and a very nice open bar.
This Wednesday, August 14, 2004, 6-8 p.m.
I hope to see you there.
Here is a short video of Deirdre McCloskey speaking, as a teaser trailer for the event.
…some additional Joy of Knitting posts found at archive.org.
Those who want an unlimited number of immigrants to move into our country always say sighingly, to the sound of violins, “we were a nation of migrants…”. Which means that as Eyties once used to migrate to other countries, now we have to be generous and take in a billion people. I’m not against immigration, provided that it’s legal and regulated according to established quotas. But I also think that, as Italy can’t provide a decent livelihood for millions upon millions of immigrants, it’s useless to attract them here only to condemn them to a hand to mouth existence. Better support the economy in their own countries. Likewise the same beautiful souls look indulgently on crimes committed by immigrants reminding us that “we exported the Mafia”. Alas, so we did. However, as foreign governments quite rightly adopted whatever measures they deemed necessary to stamp it out, so we shouldn’t condone immigrant criminality. It would be offensive to law-abiding immigrants, sending them the message that they are racially inferior and therefore unable to tell right from wrong.
Communism as a Religion 11/18/04:
The fact that communism is a religion first dawned on me in the seventies. It struck me that, for all their virulent anti-Catholicism, comrades weren’t after all that different from the most bigoted among their opponents. They believed in Marxism with such a blind faith that merely hearing a different opinion made them fly into a rage and scream “fascist!” with the zeal of an Inquisitor. There were lots of dogmas to believe in unquestioningly, the coming of the Revolution, something called “the centrality of the working class”, proletarian violence, and lots more. No one could depart one jot from the approved faith on pain of excommunication. The doctrine was Marxism, enshrined in its holy texts, and the main prophet was Marx, but there were other prophets, like Lenin. There were saints, like Che Guevara. The god of this religion was a somewhat nebulous figure, either communism itself or a mythical entity called the People, or the Masses, or the Proletariat, which did not in reality correspond to any actual group of persons. Comrades talked about their love humanity all the time, but if there was something they couldn’t stand it was people. Human beings are so messy, so unpredictable, always botching up beautiful dreams of a perfect society in which everybody would be free to do as he is told by the comrades themselves, for his own good, of course. Their idea of paradise, where everyone would be exactly like everyone else, would be brought about by the Revolution. Belief in the Revolution was a central dogma of their faith, the one around which everything gravitated. It was the eschatological event that would lead, through purifying proletarian violence, to palingenesis, to total world renovation. It would be the Second Coming, the Apocalypse, the end of time, freeing humanity from its chains and placing it outside history. With the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, the final triumph of the communist god, there would be no more history. That is, no more anxiety-inducing change, but endless stagnation. Where was Satan in all this? It was capitalistic bourgeois society. An often repeated slogan in those days was “The bourgeois state must be destroyed, not changed”. Criminals were therefore seen as romantic outcasts, the victims of bourgeois society, and terrorists were heroes of the People who fought for the Revolution. If they had to choose between criminals (or terrorists) and their victims, comrades would sympathise with the former and blame the latter. Imagine the left’s predicament in these days. Towards the end of the seventies, when revolutionary ideals started showing cracks, many comrades went mad or even committed suicide. Now, they must either wake up, face reality and renege on everything they’ve believed in so far, or just keep on dreaming.
I once bought a book of John Donne’s poems. I found an Italian edition with the original text on one page and the translation on the facing page. Plus, there was a short introduction about ten pages long. So far, so good. I took the book home, sat down to read it, and got a big surprise. When I happened to glance at the translation I found out that it was much more difficult than the original. The critic who had done it and had also written the introduction was a deconstructivist. While Donne’s text was easy to understand and not at all as obscure as I had been told it was, the translation into my own language was incomprehensible, twisted and tortured, with short, abrupt sentences that did nothing to follow the sustained flow of the original. The translator had rewritten the poems to his liking, even deliberately altering the meaning of the words, but the result had nothing in common with Donne’s work. Determined to see all of the horror perpetrated, I tried to read the introduction, ten miserable pages in a mysterious Italian I couldn’t understand. In the end I gave up. The problem is that the average student who couldn’t yet read English Metaphysical Poetry in the original would have thought that was Donne. The same thing happens to all those who touch anything deconstructivists have been messing about with, like cultures and civilizations. Claiming reality doesn’t exist, they present their own mistaken perceptions as the only possible reality, and want others to behave as if that was the only truth available.
Posted by Lexington Green on 2nd July 2014 (All posts by Lexington Green)
[A]s some smart-aleck said, we must change or perish. And who should break our long postwar consensual slumber — not with a snog but with a short sharp smack around the head with a handbag and a cry of “Look smart!” — but the Iron Lady herself.
Mrs Thatcher meant, and still means, many things — some of which she is not yet aware of herself, as we are not. Only death brings proper perspective to the triumphs and failures of a political career; it is only with the blank look and full stop of death that that old truism “all political careers end in failure” stops being true. Only a terminally smug liberal would still write her off as an uptight bundle of Little Englandisms, seeking to preserve the old order, however hard she worked that look at first; voting for her was something akin to buying what one thought was a Vera Lynn record, getting it home and finding a Sex Pistols single inside.
She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction. Some of the things she destroyed seemed like a shame at the time, such as the old industries — though on balance, isn’t there anything good about the fact that thousands of young men who once simply because of who their fathers were would have been condemned to a life spent underground in the darkness, and an early death coughing up bits of lung, now won’t be?
Here is the original article. RTWT.
Let’s hear that one more time:
“She was just as much about revolution as reaction, and part of any revolution is destruction.”
I don’t know if I can really claim to be a science fiction fan – I am not hard-core, at any rate. I have had my moments with particular authors in the genre, I’ve been to a couple of cons (Salt Lake City and Albuquerque – the con here in San Antonio costs too much at the door for my budget) – I have all of Blake’s 7 on VHS tape (taped from broadcast on Salt Lake City’s public TV station in the early 1990s), most of Babylon 5, and I have purchased every on of Lois McMaster Bujould’s Vorkosigan novels when and if they present themselves in paperback. Oh, and I really enjoy Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, but they’re not really science fiction – more fantasy with a wry twist. I watched Star Trek when it was originally broadcast – but who of the age that I am now didn’t, unless their parents were Luddites who wouldn’t have a TV in the house?
And Dad worked as a scientific sub-contractor for NASA, now and again. Something to do with circadian rhythms and space travel might possibly affect them, either positively or negatively, so –yes, science!
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That Hideous Strength by C. S. Lewis
This was the first thing Mark had been asked to do which he himself, before he did it, clearly knew to be criminal. But the moment of his consent almost escaped his notice; certainly, there was no struggle, no sense of turning a corner. There may have been a time in the world’s history when such moments fully revealed their gravity, with witches prophesying on a blasted heath or visible Rubicons to be crossed. But, for him, it all slipped past in a chatter of laughter, of that intimate laughter between fellow professionals, which of all earthly powers is strongest to make men do very bad things before they are yet, individually, very bad men.
Mark Studdock is a young on-the-make sociologist, a professor at Bracton College, in an English town called Edgestow. He is is far more interested in university politics than in his research or teaching. and as a member of the “progressive element” at the college, he strongly supports Bracton selling a tract of property to a government-sponsored entity called NICE. The NICE is the National Institute for Coordinated Experimentation,which Lewis describes as “the first fruits of that constructive fusion between the state and the laboratory on which so many thoughtful people base their hopes of a better world.” What excites Mark most about the NICE is this:
The real thing is that this time we’re going to get science applied to social problems and backed by the whole force of the state, just as war has been backed by the whole force of the state in the past. One hopes, of course, that it’ll find out more than the old freelance science did, but what’s certain is that it can do more.
Trigger Warning: There is something in this book to offend almost everybody. It contains things that will offend technologists and believers in human progress…social scientists…feminists…academic administrators…bioscience researchers…and surely many other categories of people. It will probably also offend some Christians, for the way in which Christian theology is mixed with non-Christian magic. By the standards now becoming current in American universities, this book, and even this book review, should be read by no one at all. But for those who do not accept those standards…
The Basic Story. Mark has recently married Jane, a woman with strong literary interests and with vague plans for getting an advanced degree. She has recently started having disturbing, indeed terrifying, dreams, which suggest that she has a clairvoyant ability to see distant events in real time. Afraid that she is losing her mind, Jane seeks advice, and is told that her dreams are actually visions, they are very real, will not stop, and are of utmost importance:
“Young lady,” said Miss Ironwood, “You do not at all realize the seriousness of this matter. The things you have seen concern something compared with which the happiness, and even the life, of you and me, is of no importance.”
Miss Ironwood warns Jane that extremely evil people will seek to use her gift, and that she would do well–both for her own interests and those of the entire human race–to join the community of which Miss Ironwood is a part, located at a place called St Anne’s. Jane responds quite negatively to the invitation, afraid that membership in the St Anne’s group will limit her autonomy. She is not interested in the dreams’ meaning; she just wants them to go away.
Mark, on the other hand, responds enthusiastically when he is invited to take a position at the NICE, temporarily located at an old manor called Belbury. One of the first people he meets there is the Head of the Institutional Police, a woman named Miss Hardcastle (picture Janet Napolitano), nicknamed the Fairy, who explains to Mark her theory of crime and punishment:
“Here in the Institute, we’re backing the crusade against Red Tape.” Mark gathered that, for the Fairy, the police side of the Institute was the really important side…In general, they had already popularized in the press the idea that the Institute should be allowed to experiment pretty largely in the hope of discovering how far humane, remedial treatment could be substituted for the old notion of “retributive” or “vindictive” punishment…The Fairy pointed out that what had hampered every English police force up to date was precisely the idea of deserved punishment. For desert was always finite; you could do so much to the criminal and no more. Remedial treatment, on the other hand, need have no fixed limit; it could go on till it had effected a cure, and those who were carrying it out would decide when that was. And if cure were humane and desirable, how much more prevention? Soon anyone who had ever been in the hands of the police at all would come under the control of the NICE; in the end, every citizen.
Another person Mark meets in his first days at Belbury is the acclaimed chemist William Hingest…who has also come down to investigate the possibility of a job at Belbury, has decided against it, and strongly advises Mark to do likewise:
“I came down here because I thought it had something to do with science. Now that I find it’s something more like a political conspiracy, I shall go home. I’m too old for that kind of thing, and if I wanted to join a conspiracy, this one wouldn’t be my choice.”
“You mean, I suppose, that the element of social planning doesn’t appeal to you? I can quite understand that it doesn’t fit in with your work as it does with sciences like Sociology, but–“
“There are no sciences like Sociology. And if I found chemistry beginning to fit in with a secret police run by a middle-aged virago who doesn’t wear corsets and a scheme for taking away his farm and his shop and his children from every Englishman, I’d let chemistry go to the devil and take up gardening again…I happen to believe that you can’t study men, you can only get to know them, which is quite a different thing. Because you study them, you want to make the lower orders govern the country and listen to classical music, which is balderdash. You also want to take away from them everything that makes life worth living and not only from them but from everyone except a parcel of prigs and professors.”
Nevertheless, Mark decides to remain at Belbury, and is drawn ever-deeper into its activities–which, as only those in the innermost circles of that organization realize, are not only consistent with the goals of the 20th-century totalitarianisms, but go considerably beyond them. The NICE seeks to establish a junction between the powers of modern science and those of ancient magic, accessing the latter by awakening the medieval wizard Merlin and using him for their purposes. At the same time, Jane–despite her reservations–becomes increasingly involved with the company at St Anne’s and is entranced with its leader, a Mr Fisher-King. (His name comes from the Wounded King in Arthurian legend.) The St Anne’s group is aware of the truth about NICE and its ultimate goals, and exists for the primary purpose of opposing and, hopefully, destroying that organization.
I will not here describe the war between the forces of Belbury and those of St Anne’s (in order to avoid spoilers), but will instead comment on the characters of some of the protagonists and some philosophically-significant events in the novel, with appropriate excerpts. Hopefully this will be enough to give a sense of the worldview that Lewis is presenting in this book.
Mark Studdock. His character is largely defined by his strong desire to be a member of the Inner Circle, whatever that inner circle may be in a particular context. The passage at the start of this review where Mark agrees to engage in criminal activity on Belbury’s behalf is proceeded by this:
After a few evenings Mark ventured to walk into the library on his own; a little uncertain of his reception, yet afraid that if he did not soon assert his right to the entree this modesty might damage him. He knew that the error in either direction is equally fatal.
It was a success. Before he had closed the door behind him all had turned with welcoming faces and Filostrato had said “Ecco ” and the Fairy, “Here’s the very man.” A glow of pleasure passed over Mark’s whole body.
That “glow of pleasure” at being accepted by the Belbury’s Inner Circle (what Mark then thinks is Belbury’s Inner Circle) is strong enough to overcome any moral qualms on Mark’s part about the actions he is being requested to perform. Lewis has written a great deal elsewhere about the lust for the Inner Circle, which in his view never leads to satisfaction but only to a longing for membership in another, still-more-inner circle. In That Hideous Strength, there are concentric Inner Circles at Belbury, which Mark does penetrate–and each is more sinister than the last.
Posted in Academia, Anglosphere, Arts & Letters, Bioethics, Book Notes, Britain, Christianity, Civil Society, Conservatism, Crime and Punishment, Deep Thoughts, Human Behavior, Leftism, Morality and Philosphy, Philosophy, Political Philosophy | 12 Comments »
It was observed by Andrew Breitbart that politics is downstream from culture.
Be sure to read this post by Daniel Greenberg on the use of cultural technology in the culture war.
Related: this Grim’s Hall review of the movie Maleficent, a new version of Sleeping Beauty. The reviewer connects the implicit cultural messages of the move with the reaction of the Obama administration and its supporters to the Benghazi debacle.
Glenn Reynolds said today that “Personally, I don’t think we’ll fix America’s political problems until we fix its media problem.”
See also my related post Metaphors, interfaces, and thought Processes.
Who wants to sign up to do a review of:
1) One or more Joseph Conrad nautically-themed novels?
2) Moby Dick?
3) The Aubrey-Maturin series (either the series as a whole, or the early books)?
Ones I’m planning to do myself are White Jacket (Melville), The Hornblower Series (at least the early ones), and The Cruel Coast.
Michael Kennedy, with your considerable sailing experience I hope you’ll sign up to do at least one review for this series.
True Blue writes about his younger cousin, who just graduated from Columbia University. Previously, she attended a high school associated with the University of Chicago (where both of her parents are professors.).
Walking through a bookstore the other day, she asked me if “Dickens is worth reading.” I thought she was joking. Dear readers, I was very wrong. It so happens, through all of high school and college, she had never been assigned Dickens, Chaucer, Milton, T.S. Eliot, Austen, or Melville! The list went on and on. Needless to say, nary a Bible was cracked during all this time either.
Effectively, my cousin was raised without a heritage. Her American/English-speaking birthright was denied her. Though she thought herself in possession of a stellar academic background, she knows worse than nothing about her civilization. I say “worse than nothing” because her head has been crammed full of multi-culti garbage.
It will come as no surprise when I tell you that she read Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison in high school.
Personally, I don’t have much useful to say about Maya Angelou or Toni Morrison; I’ve read very little by either of them and with what I’ve read, I was not very impressed. I have, however, heard some of Maya Angelou’s work referenced in very positive terms by people whose literary judgments I respect. I think the point here is not that there’s anything bad about reading contemporary authors, but there’s plenty bad about reading contemporary (and highly trendy) authors to the exclusion of all other literature.
Thomas Bertonneau writes about his experiences teaching literary criticism in college:
Increasingly in our post-literate society, however, few students at the undergraduate level (and surprisingly few even at the master’s-degree level) bring with them much in the way of exposure to literature. Today’s students have read few books. What they have read is typically the topical, published-yesterday fiction that the hucksters of the scholastic book market sell to the middle schools and high schools as “edgy,” “with it,” or “out-of-the-headlines” portrayals of teenage anxiety…
Since I occasionally teach my department’s Introduction to Literary Criticism, I have had to think the problem through. When I recently received the assignment to teach the course again, I moved “proactively.”
A survey on the first day of class confirmed my expectations. Among them, the sixteen students could produce the titles of only eight novels that they had read (but that not all of them had read). Of the three most-mentioned (five students had read all three) were Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games (2008), its sequel Catching Fire (2009), and Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight (2005). Four students listed F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby (1925); one listed Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray (1890). Four out of the ten coeds, but none of the men, had read Jay Asher’s adolescent female suicide-story Thirteen Reasons Why(2007). A few students had read Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet but none had read Hamlet or The Tempest. No student could name a poem by William Wordsworth, John Keats, or Robert Frost.
Read the whole article to learn how Prof Bertonneau approached the problem of teaching literary criticism to these kids.
Just about everyone has seen the movie based on this book, featuring Humphrey Bogart’s famous performance as Captain Queeg. The movie is indeed excellent–the book is even better, and contains a lot that is absent from the film. And while the film ends basically after the court-martial scene, the book continue to follow the USS Caine and key characters for the duration of the war. In this review, I won’t worry about spoilers re plot elements that were included in the movie, but will try to minimize them as far as other aspects of the book are concerned. After summarizing the story, I’ll comment on some of the issue raised by the book. (A recent article, referencing The Caine Mutiny, refers to Wouk as “the first neoconservative.”)
Lieutenant Commander Philip Queeg, a rigid and insecure man, is appointed during WWII to the command of Caine, a decrepit old destroyer-minesweeper…the ship and its slovenly-appearing crew are described as being part of the “hoodlum navy.” This is Queeg’s first command, and he is desperately concerned to make it a success, deeply afraid of making a mistake which will lead to his failure. Ironically, it is specifically this fear of failure and perceived need for perfection which is responsible for many, perhaps most, of his troubles. When Caine runs aground the first time Queeg takes her out, he fails to submit the required grounding report for fear of higher authority’s reaction. When the ship cuts her own towline while assigned to target-towing duty, Queeg cannot make up him mind whether or not to attempt recovery of the drifting target–and radios in for instructions. Incidents like these do not inspire confidence in Queeg on the part of his superiors.
The officers and crew of Caine also lose confidence in the captain as his obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes increasingly problematic. As a result of several incidents during combat, there are also concerns about Queeg’s personal courage. While no one aboard Caine likes Queeg once they get to know him, the captain’s most vocal critic is an officer named Thomas Keefer, an intellectual who is an aspiring novelist. Keefer has a cynical attitude toward the Navy, which he refers to as “a master plan designed by geniuses for execution by idiots,” and advises Willie Keith, a young officer who is his subordinate, that “If you’re not an idiot, but find yourself in the Navy, you can only operate well by pretending to be one.”
The ship’s executive officer is Steve Maryk. In civilian life a commercial fisherman, Maryk now hopes to make the Navy his career. Maryk is a fine seaman and a good leader, but not a highly-educated man–he is somewhat in awe of Tom Keefer’s intellectual attainments.
In repeated conversations, Keefer tells Maryk that the captain must be mentally ill, using psychological jargon and concepts that Maryk does not pretend to understand. Maryk is concerned enough about Queeg’s behavior that he begins keeping a “medical log” on Queeg, with the idea of presenting this to higher authority if necessary and possible. The time seems right when Caine shares an anchorage with the battleship carrying Admiral Halsey: Maryk takes his log, takes Keefer in tow, and heads over to the New Jersey to see if they can speak with the Admiral. But Keefer, at the last moment, chickens out, asserting that Halsey, with his experience aboard large well-managed ships, would never be able to understand the state of things aboard a hoodlum-navy ship like Caine, and that raising the issue with him would only get the two of them in trouble. Feeling unable to make the case without support, Maryk gives up on talking to Halsey and the two officers return to Caine.
But soon thereafter, the old ship encounters a typhooon. Fleet course is 180 degrees, due south–away from the wind–and Queeg refuses to adopt the safer course of heading into the wind even though communication with other ships, as well as radar contact, has been lost.
An unbelievably big gray wave loomed on the port side, high over the bridge. It came smashing down. Water spouted into the wheelhouse from the open wing, flooding to Willie’s knees. The water felt surprisingly warm and sticky, like blood. “Sir, we’re shipping water on the goddamn bridge!” said Maryk shrilly. “We’ve got to come around into the wind!”
“Heading 245, sir.” Stilwell’s voice was sobbing. “She ain’t answering to the engines at all, sir!”
The Caine rolled almost completely over on its port side. Everybody in the wheelhouse except Stilwell went sliding across the streaming deck and piled up against the windows. The sea was under their noses, dashing up against the glass. “Mr Maryk, the light on this gyro just went out!” screamed Stilwell, clinging desperately to the wheel. The wind howled and shrieked in Willie’s ears. He lay on his face on the deck, tumbling around in salt water, flailing for a grip at something solid.
The Classical Unities are three principles of drama (derived , or perhaps misderived, from Aristotle) which, according to certain Italian and French literary critics of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, should govern the construction of any drama. They are:
–unity of action: a single plot line with no sub-plots
–unity of place: the events should be constrained to a single location
–unity of time: the events should be limited to the period of a single day
One of the reasons that nautically-oriented fiction can be so powerful, I think, is that by its nature it often establishes certain unities: the action typically occurs in a single place…albeit a moveable one, the ship…with a consistent cast of characters belonging to that place…and, although unity of time in the strict classical sense of all action occurring within a single day may be rare, another sort of unity of time is often established in that events occur over the course of a single voyage.
I’m launching an ongoing project to post reviews of worthwhile nautical fiction, recent and not-so-recent, well-known and not-so-well-known. All ChicagoBoyz and ChicagoGrrlz authors are invited to participate. Movies may also be included under this review category, as may some nonfiction books, especially personal memoirs.
Books/movies I’m planning to review myself, in the not-too-distant future, include: The Caine Mutiny, by Herman Wouk…The Hornblower series, by C S Forester, and White Jacket, by Herman Melville. Also To the Last Salute, by Captain Georg von Trapp (yes, that Captain von Trapp.)
Other books definitely deserving of reviews as part of this project include the nautical novels of Joseph Conrad, Melville’s Moby Dick and Billy Budd, and Nicholas Montsarrat’s The Cruel Sea.
Please post your suggestions for worthwhile books for this project in comments; also, for Chicago Boyz and Grrlz and anyone else who feels especially motivated, any books you would particularly like to sign up to review. I see this as an ongoing project since the universe of books under this category is vast.
I’ve read a great deal about the French defeat of 1940, attempting to understand the military, political, and cultural factors behind this debacle. (Some of my conclusions can be found here.) I had not, however, encountered a report Picasso’s response to Matisse, when the latter asked him, “But what about our generals, what are they doing?”
According to this article, Picasso’s response was “Our generals? They’re the masters at the Ecole des Beaux Arts!”…ie, men possessed by the same rote formulae and absence of observation and obsessive traditionalism as the academic artists.
Picasso’s comment is entirely consistent with the observations of Andre Beaufre, in 1940 a young captain on the French staff and after the war a general. When Beaufre was promoted to a staff position…
I saw very quickly that our seniors were primarily concerned with forms of drafting. Every memorandum had to be perfect, written in a concise, impersonal style, and conforming to a logical and faultless plan–but so abstract that it had to be read several times before one could find out what it was about…”I have the honour to inform you that I have decided…I envisage…I attach some importance to the fact that…” Actually no one decided more than the barest minimum, and what indeed was decided was pretty trivial.
I believe that the kind of formalism of which Picasso and Beaufre spoke is becoming increasingly dominant in many spheres of American society (though hopefully not the the degree to which it pervaded the inter-war French military…and that this malign phenomenon is largely a side effect of the higher-education bubble, although it is also being driven to a certain extent by the growth of government and the increasingly-abstract nature of much work.